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Gap Year Travel

Take time off before college and travel the world

If you’re the young adult wondering what to do after senior year, the options are plentiful and the world is your oyster. Why not travel?

A relatively new trend in the United States, gap year travel is a year between the end of high school and the start of college where students can get real-world experience away from the sheltered high school walls and before the career-focused college fast-track. Areas of the world like Australia and the United Kingdom have picked up on the notion, sending approximately 11 percent of students abroad to spend an extended amount of time immersing themselves in a new culture, working toward a goal, or simply acquiring independence.

The stressful pressure and draining routine of senior year leaves little room for mental refreshment or reflection, so more families are looking into gap year travel for their hopeful seniors. The goal of a gap year is to remove the student from the protected high school arena, and to expose him or her to a different way of living before they enter yet another cushy environment: college. They are forced to make long-term career decisions and it would be nice for them to have at least a little bit of real world experience before they just dive in.

“Counselors are coming to bless the gap year option,” says G. Jeffrey MacDonald, for USA Today. “Colleges increasingly are offering a deferred enrollment option as more and more ’gappers’ arrive on campus with enhanced focus, motivation and maturity — all of which bodes well for their undergraduate years in college.”

Adding this new perspective is supposed to aid in growth and adulthood, so the student can (hopefully) make a more informed decision on which school to attend, how to approach college once he or she gets there, and discover a career path that best fits their new, more knowledgeable mindset.

A common misconception is that a gap year is simply a year off. “When handled as a 12-month vacation, gap years rarely achieve the desired purpose. Structured schedules and well-honed goals that remove kids from their comfort zones are the keystones to a productive gap year experience. While some students prefer to work for the year, learning to appreciate and develop their own financial and career goals, a stronger emphasis has been put on travel and volunteer options (known as voluntourism), in order to truly eradicate the hamster-wheel notion of school-to-career monotony. Experiences in eco-conservation, community projects, nature expeditions, and teaching opportunities are common paths.


There are a number of ways that you can angle your gap year travel toward your environmental itch. Opportunities to work with animals in South Africa, recording the behavior of lions, studying elephants, or tracking rhinos and leopards with the Field Guide Association of South Africa is one way to help out our furry friends.

Spending four weeks in India preserving parks and wildlife habitats with the Ministry of Environment and Forest helps to protect natural resources and sustain land. In Thailand, opportunities to increase awareness and involvement with coral reef protection in Koh Tao consist of surveying reefs, collecting data, and promoting other environmental initiatives. The ancient Inca capital of Cusco, Peru holds the diverse regions of the Amazon jungle, in which students stay in traditional lodges and learn survival skills, and to conduct scientific research.

Community projects

For those budding humanitarians aching to better the world one person at a time, there are hundreds of options to help those in need anywhere you’re willing to travel. Adults and children alike in countries all over the planet are in need of able bodies and minds willing to sacrifice their time and patience in order to lend one-on-one help, increase awareness, and to strengthen already existing programs.

For example, travel to Cambodia was once highly discouraged, but with gaining popularity due to other humanitarian groups (Angelina Jolie’s name doesn’t hurt, either), more and more people are heading to this Southeast Asian country to teach arts and crafts, music, development, and social work. Aiding in rehabilitation and fundraising as well, helpful hands have managed to keep Cambodia in progress. Promoting AIDS and HIV awareness is certainly a noteworthy way to spend a year. Heading local workshops and conducting seminars in South Africa may be a fitting choice.


If you’re more of an outdoor type, then look towards expedition-based gap year travel. Locations are limitless, and they are fascinating ways to be outside, experience a new culture, and work toward a goal to rehabilitate, preserve or aid in helping a cause.

The second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Nicaragua, has been pelted with natural disasters and is still in need of serious repair. Students can spend time here improving fresh water systems, or enhancing local school facilities for children. Its neighbor, Costa Rica, also benefits from students who spend their gap year promoting health and educational programs within communities there. Even further south, where Patagonia reaches what seems like nothingness, students spend their gap year tailing scientists in Antarctica and learning about the wildlife of ice caps, eco-systems, and climate change.


After the 12 years you spent in school learning, why not teach what you know? Spending your gap year in Nepal teaching English to children who live below the poverty line is just one way to contribute to the developing country’s rise. Work with children between the ages of five and 16 while building recycling centers or running a sports club encourages both you and the children to learn new things every day.

In Australia, you’ll reach a very diverse group of people. Some Aboriginal children have received no formal education and come from cattle, mining and islander communities. Teaching them English, running outdoor camps, and aiding in conservation work helps these children develop the skills and tools necessary for growth. Put your gap year to good use by teaching others, and learning from your newly formed relationships.

To learn more about how you can make your gap year travel count, visit Remember, this isn’t a year of you sitting around, watching TV all day. Get out and make a difference. You’ll make an impact on the people around you and on yourself. You’ll gain invaluable experience that you couldn’t have gained anywhere else so take full advantage of this opportunity and make the world better, one person and place at a time.

Melisse Hinkle
A New England native but explorer at heart, Melisse has lived in four U.S. cities, spent a summer in Hawaii, made her way through wine-producing regions in Australia and New Zealand, and traveled around Europe while studying abroad in London. She is the Content Manager for the U.S. and Canada at Cheapflights.